Tony Adams, Andy Cole, Ashley Cole, and Paul Merson are former stars who became world-class players after making the grade at Arsenal’s famous youth academy based in Hale End, London. It appears there’s yet another star from that same production line set to shine even brighter.
One of the Academy’s most exciting graduates in recent times is Ealing-born teen wonder, Bukayo Saka.
But can the versatile left-footer attain the heights of his legendary predecessors?
Based purely on his profound ability, Saka has got the talents to become one of the best players in the world in whichever position he finally settles in on that left side of the pitch.
The lad’s talent is evident and undeniable once he’s got the ball at his feet. Fast, smart, silky, and tricky. These assets he has used often enough to fly past defenders, to swing in dangerous crosses for his strikers to stroke home, and also to glide into the area and smash a few goals past hapless goaltenders.
Many who knew the teenager when he was younger are not surprised by his fast rise to prominence. Some confessed he has been doing this since he was a kid.
Juventus ace, Stephy Mavdidi, was a former club-mate of Saka back in those days, and he had this to say about him.
“I remember when I was at Hale End, and I used to watch Bukayo with the Under-8s. He used to get the ball and run through the whole team and score.”
Incredible, even for one so young.
So, it came as no surprise to close observers when Saka was given a professional contract as soon as he turned 17 and promoted to the Under-23 side to play against boys who were sometimes twice his size.
He shone like a billion stars there, and two months after, he made his competitive debut for Arsenal in the Europa League.
Just days after turning 18, the youngster of Nigerian descent scored and provided two assists as the Gunners secured a 3-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in Match Day 1 of this season’s Europa League.
Since then, he has played 26 times for the Gunners, registering three goals and providing ten assists in all competitions, while having to feature predominantly at left-back.
His gorgeous cross for Eddie Nketiah’s leveller in the 3-2 defeat of Everton at the weekend is his third in consecutive matches for the north Londoners.
It also made the kid wonder the first teenager to reach double figures for assists with Arsenal since Cesc Fabregas in 2006/07.
The England youth international’s excellent assist in Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Olympiacos had earlier made him the first English player in history to assist five goals in a single Europa League campaign.
His brilliance and versatility have even seen him function in several roles for coach Arteta’s side, including at left-back, wing-back, and winger.
Arsenal fans apparently can’t contain their joy that the talented teen is one of their own, and it’s not too difficult to conclude that should he continue his development, he could rise to become one of the best players on the planet.
Highly-rated German youth coach and Arsenal’s head of youth development, Marcel Lucassen, shares the same sentiment.
“Bukayo Saka is the best example of what we want at Arsenal.
“Saka has the potential to become one of the best three wing-backs in the world, and I really think Arteta can help in that process.”
The hype surrounding the youngster has cranked up a level or two in recent weeks with football heroes like Gary Neville and Robin Van Persie speaking in glowing terms about him.
Saka would be smart, however, to know that he is nowhere near fulfilling his potential yet. It would be unwise to let the compliments get in his head.
Legends hail kid wonders all the time. It’s up to the youngster to show the quality and consistency to become world-class.
A wrong turn, though, can spell doom. And one only needs to glance in the direction of Nicklas Bendtner, David Bentley, Jack Wilshere, and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie to get the message.
For every Tony Adams’ success story, there’s a Gavin Hoyte who never quite made the grade. For every Ashley Cole, there’s an Armand Traore. A single misstep can flush talent down the drain.
This is why Saka needs to work harder, especially on his weaknesses, reinforce his strength, and improve his overall game.
The words of wisdom from Arteta should ring true in his ears every minute of the day,
“…there is still a lot of margin for him (Saka) to improve, and he needs to keep his feet on the ground, and we have to help him too.”
Hearken unto that wise advice, and it may not be long before the football world sees the very best of Saka.